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September 20, 2022 | Tom Ballard

Genera Energy wins this year’s “Traction Award” presented during “Startup Day”

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

A company with strong ties to an initiative championed by David Millhorn, the late University of Tennessee (UT) visionary research leader, won the “Traction Award,” sponsored by Verizon, at Tuesday’s “Startup Day” event that was part of “Innov865 Week.”

Kelly Tiller (right), President and Chief Executive Officer, accepts the award from Carol Johnston, Verizon’s Client Executive for East Tennessee.

Genera Energy Inc., a manufacturer of non-wood agricultural pulp and molded fiber products, captured the recognition nearly 15 years after the State of Tennessee committed $70 million to the UT Biofuels Initiative to lead the effort to transition to an advanced biofuels economy. The immediate goal of the initiative was to demonstrate the feasibility of converting what was envisioned to be thousands of acres of homegrown switchgrass into cellulosic ethanol by building a pilot-scale research and demonstration cellulosic ethanol biorefinery, which would utilize the switchgrass.

Like many start-up initiatives, there have been pivots along the way, and that was certainly true for Genera which is based in Vonore, a small community in Monroe County. Located in the Niles Ferry Industrial Park, Genera operates both its Fiber Products Mill and its Biomass Innovation Park research campus.

  • The former is the largest fully integrated non-wood fiber and fiber product manufacturing facility in the U.S., producing ag-based fiber for market use as well as molded fiber food service and packaging products.
  • Genera’s Biomass Innovation Park has been in operation since 2011, hosting Genera’s corporate headquarters along with significant biomass handling and processing capabilities. The facility is operated to bridge the gap between farm gate and the industrial manufacturing facility gate, ranging from biomass receiving and inventory management to size reduction and characterization.

The ”Traction Award” recognizes those ups and downs and more recent successes including:

  • The June announcement that Ara Partners, a Houston-based private equity firm specializing in industrial decarbonization investments, has acquired Genera Energy. As part of the transaction, Ara has also committed up to an additional $200 millionof capital to support significant expansion of the company’s sustainable pulp and packaging business (see article here).
  • An subsequent announcement less than a month later that Genera had acquired Woodlands, TX-based MxG Fiber LLC (MxG) as part of its overall growth strategy (see article here).

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